Area Boy Scouts earned their disabilities awareness merit badge at an event held by the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities March 26 at the board's Lewis Center facility.

Area Boy Scouts earned their disabilities awareness merit badge at an event held by the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities March 26 at the board's Lewis Center facility.

Thirty-eight Scouts attended the event, which the board plans to hold annually, said Craig Hill of DCBDD, who helped to orchestrate the event. This was the first time the board held the program.

The Scouts attended several classes to learn the myths and misconceptions about people with disabilities. They also learned about person-first language, which means talking to people with disabilities instead of talking about their disabilities, Hill said.

"The disabilities awareness badge teaches inclusion and helps Scouts understand the best way to talk with people with disabilities," said David Hudler of Recreation Unlimited, a retreat for mentally and physically challenged persons.

"It provides understanding so they know that people with disabilities can do anything," said Hudler, an Eagle Scout who also earned the disabilities awareness merit badge in his youth.

"When you have that understanding, it falls into place," said Shawn Dunaway, service support administrator with the DCBDD.

The Scouts also learned about many of the tools people with disabilities use daily for independent living.

Boy Scout Collin Finn of Portsmouth learned how to operate a conference room's heavy doors in a wheelchair without using the motorized door opener.

Hudler taught the Boy Scouts how to raise a wheelchair's front wheels to get over a curb that doesn't have a ramp and to avoid obstacles on a sidewalk.

"Popping a wheelie was hard," Finn said.

Hudler also instructed the scouts on playing wheelchair basketball. He has used a wheelchair since high school.

Adam Freeberg, of Troop 701 in Sunbury, said "steering the wheelchair" was challenging.

"You have to figure out which (wheel) to turn forward and which one to move backward," Freeberg said.

Dunaway, who has used a wheelchair for 20 years, said maneuvering through doorways is an important skill, "one encountered every day."

Though it's second nature to him now, Dunaway said, one of the most difficult things to learn about using a wheelchair is "a continuous push up or down a ramp, and controlling the chair when going down a ramp."

The merit badge program is a way to "raise awareness that (people with disabilities) do the same things as other people," said Cory Grywalski, DCBDD's virtual communications coordinator.

The Boy Scouts also learned from DCBDD director Bob Morgan about services that the board offers, including a special needs registry for emergency services.

"Organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H and others train our youth and future leaders. Boy Scouts of America offers a merit badge on disabilities awareness to foster understanding of individuals with disabilities. It was a great opportunity for the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities to sponsor this merit badge training and to share information with these young men, their leaders and many of their families. We were very impressed with what the scouts already knew and the personal relationships that many had with individuals with disabilities. We believe that as a result of such scouting experiences, individuals with disabilities will be better served and valued in the community," Morgan said.

"Two of our employees, Craig Hill and Keith Matlack, are scout leaders and worked very hard to organize this event. It was a great success and our plans are to make this an annual event and work with other youth leadership organizations," he said.

The disabilities awareness merit badge dates to 1993, said Peter Fenimore, who helped with the event. He is senior district executive of the Simon Kenton Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

"The importance of the badge is that scouting tries to be inclusive and make folks aware that there is great diversity in the world and that scouts come from various households and experiences," Fenimore said.